It’s hard to think of a better bit of marketing genius in the food industry than McDonald’s decision to tempt children with toys as well as hamburgers. Even if chicken nuggets are basically crack covered in breadcrumbs, anyone who’s grown up in the vicinity of a Maccies knows that the real highlight of a Happy Meal was the one part you couldn’t eat.
Over the years, McDonald’s have designed literally hundreds of small, plastic takeaways for their young fanbase. These have varied from the truly awesome Hot Wheels Happy Meal cars, to the frankly terrible Halloween McNuggets. However, despite decades of success and status as a global cultural icon, there is a very real danger that the McDonald’s toy could soon become a thing of the past.
As ever, the problem is with plastic. We’re only just beginning to realise the extent to which our plastic dependency may be ruining the planet, with evidence mounting that it is one of the most significant pollutants that we produce. In the face of a growing, plasticky crisis, politicians and scientists are constantly brainstorming ideas for how we can best reduce our consumption. At their annual conference, the current British government has just announced that Happy Meals may be the best place to start.
Addressing members of the Conservative Party in Birmingham this week, environment minister Therese Coffey stated that McDonald’s should “give up their happy meal toys”, replacing them with games for phones and other mobile devices. Coffey stressed that the move would be a “symbolic” shift to help fight against the damaging consequences of plastic use.
Were the proposal to go ahead, McDonald’s would join a growing list of British businesses that have pledged to limit their plastic use. According to The Telegraph, major food companies such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrison’s Marks & Spencer and Unilever have all announced plans to slash their plastic consumption in recent months. Maybe McDonald’s concession would be ahead of the curve.
Unsurprisingly however, the suggestion did not prove particularly popular with the powers that be at Maccies HQ. Speaking to the Metro newspaper, a McDonald’s spokesperson retorted, “‘We know that our Happy Meal toys provide fun for children and families playing in our restaurants, but also provide many more fun filled hours at home for a long time too. When families are finished playing with them, they can also be recycled.”
Not content with the recycling argument, the spokesperson also added that the business had “At points in the year we also offer book promotions swapping out toys for books. Parents can also use the vouchers printed on their child’s Happy Meal box to purchase a book for £1 or download an eBook for free.”
Given how much money they make for the business and how angry they sounded at the mere suggestion of getting rid of them, it doesn’t look like McDonald’s toys are in danger any time soon. But, if pressure from the anti-plastic lobby continues to grow, there’s every chance that they could look significantly different in the future. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.